In this latest monologue by the acclaimed Antwerp-based theatre-maker Valentijn Dhaenens, the stage is laid out like an exaggerated version of the speakers’ platform in any deluxe conference centre. There’s a lectern amid a forest of tropical pot-plants; and in the middle, a man in a suit, a fit and handsome-looking young leader-in-waiting, about to make a speech.
Unsung, Summerhall (Venue 26) ****
He is, it soon emerges, a quintessential politician in the Blair-Clinton mould; tired of vacuous slogans about “change” but unable to move beyond them, contemptuous of polls and focus groups but unable to ignore them, obsessed with image, yet also so driven and adrenaline-charged that he takes huge self-destructive risks in his sexual life.
Indeed many sections of the text – created by Dhaenens with scriptwriter Vincent Stuer and dramaturg Kristin Rogghe – come directly from speeches by Tony Blair, and from other incidents in his career; and if that history is now 25 years old, the problems of authenticity and electability facing centre left and green politicians seem hardly to have changed at all.
So what is it that is “unsung” in this brilliant monologue, told partly through live action, and partly on screen, in Skype messages to his lover and fraught television appearances?
My guess is that it is the small, fierce, persistent flame of real political idealism that burns beneath the candidate’s raging personal ambition, and his burnished public persona.
The problem is, though, that if this politician does have a significant vision for the future of his country and the world, he lives in an age when he cannot talk about it honestly for fear of alienating key groups of voters, and when it can be wholly discredited in an instant by his private misconduct, which he seems unable to control.
He is, in other words, a microcosm of all that has gone wrong with centre-left western politics; summed up in a single riveting hour, by one of the most powerful performers on the Fringe.
• Until 26 August, noon